If you eat out during pregnancy, there are a few things you might want to to think about before choosing your meal.
What we eat can affect our health and general sense of wellbeing. However, when you’re pregnant what you eat has the potential to affect the growth and development of your baby. See our article on ‘Pregnancy and nutrition’ for further information.
Some foods are less safe than others for pregnant women as both you and your baby are more vulnerable to food poisoning during this period. As a result it's important to be aware of food to avoid during pregnancy, particularly when you are eating out.
That said, going out and eating good food is a pleasure for many of us, and you may wish to make the most of the time before your baby is born to eat out either at a restaurant or with friends.
- Before deciding on any particular restaurant, you can often check out the menu online and see if there are a large range of options from which you can choose.
- Once at the restaurant you can inform the waiter that you are pregnant; they may be able to guide you through the menu, highlighting any potential issues.
- If you are in any doubt about the ingredients in a particular dish, enquire further with the waiter; if they appear unsure, ask them to check with the chef.
- If you are finding it difficult to eat large meals, you could ask for a couple of starters instead.
- If your meal includes rice, check that it has been freshly prepared. Rice which has not been stored properly can lead to food poisoning.
- If you are prone to heartburn, fatty or very spicy food could make it worse.
If it is an eggy pudding you fancy you could instead opt for a crème brulee, caramel custard, baked cheesecake or meringue. These are all fine as the eggs are cooked.
Any form of uncooked, rare or cured meats may contain listeria or a parasite which can cause toxoplasmosis. Although rare, it could cause your baby harm during pregnancy.
You can request that any meat you order is well cooked, even if that is not how the chef is proposing to serve it. Cut through the middle to check it’s not pink and that the juices run clear.
However, some types of fish may contain too much mercury or other pollutants to be considered safe. Shark, swordfish and marlin risk having too much mercury and it's recommended that other oily fish is limited to no more than two portions a week in pregnancy.
As with all other foods check that the fish has been cooked first. Uncooked seafood can cause food poisoning. The exception is sushi. This is fine to eat so long as it has been frozen beforehand.
It is also fine to eat smoked fish such as smoked salmon or mackerel when you are pregnant, although some other countries advise you not to because of the risk of listeria bacteria. However, in the UK pregnant women are not advised against doing so because it is believed the risk of infection is so low in comparison to the benefits of oily fish.
For peace of mind, you could opt for white fish such as haddock, plaice, coley and cod.
If after your meal you fancy a coffee, bear in mind how much caffeine you’ve already had that day. The risk of miscarriage and low birth weight is slightly higher in women who have high caffeine intakes. Guidelines from the Food Standards Agency suggest you shouldn’t have more than 200mg a day. The amount of caffeine in food and drink will vary, but as a guide:
- 1 mug of instant coffee (100mg)
- 1 mug of tea (100mg)
- 1 can of cola (40mg)
- 1 can of energy drink (up to 80mg)
- 1 50g bar of chocolate (50mg)
The caffeine content of fresh coffee will vary in different restaurants but it is higher than instant. Some restaurants will have decaffeinated coffee or perhaps you can ask for a herbal tea instead such as mint.
There is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a nice meal out when you’re pregnant. Realistically, after your baby arrives it may be some time before you find yourself able to fully relax at a meal out again.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
The Department of Health in England publishes ‘The pregnancy book’ containing lots of information and tips about your pregnancy. Check out ‘your health in pregnancy’ which has more in depth information on nutrition in pregnancy.
Health Scotland provides information on pregnancy in its website Ready Steady Baby!